Why frozen embryos might be the future of sport horse breeding

  • Equine frozen embryos are cropping up more and more in the world of sport horse breeding. Embryo transfer, and the sale of embryos already implanted in a recipient mare, has been around for a few years, but now, with scientific processes allowing for more effective and reliable freezing and thawing of equine embryos, more buyers and breeders are exploring the possibility.

    Equine frozen embryos: how does it work?

    An embryo is the result of a successful fertilisation of a female egg by a male sperm cell. This embryo is then flushed from the mare (if fertilisation does not take place via ICSI) and can be frozen using vitrification, a method of rapid cryopreservation. The embryo can then be preserved in liquid nitrogen to be stored or transported, and transferred into a recipient mare at a later date.

    Advantages of frozen embryos

    The possibility to freeze and transport embryos offers a convenient way to buy and breed horses, as well as preserving and making available valuable genetics. It allows breeders to delay the implantation of the embryo into a recipient mare to a date of their choosing, for example if embryos are flushed from the donor mare in autumn, then can be frozen, stored and implanted early the following spring.

    It also allows for easier import and export of embryos, as it eliminates the need to transport a mare carrying a live embryo, thus opening up a much larger market for the trading of embryos.

    The opportunities they offer

    Embryo auctions are not new, but frozen embryos are appearing more and more in catalogues of major auctions such as Zangersheide and Ekestrian. The growth of the online auction, partly accelerated by the pandemic, has expanded the market further, allowing embryos to be bought easily from anywhere in the world.

    But auctions are not the only means of purchasing a high-quality frozen embryo. The launch of Mares of Macha (MoM), by Belgian entrepreneur Klaas de Coster, alongside Belgian Olympic bronze medal-winning showjumper Pieter Devos, has given breeders the chance to select and purchase frozen embryos from top quality damlines. Under the tagline “Access proven breeding”, MoM offers frozen embryos from their roster of top-class mares for sale online at set prices, moving away from the competitive bidding nature of an auction.

    “We noticed that it was difficult to access the best bloodlines – the most common way to do this was via auctions where only the highest bidder could get an exclusive foal. To make this easier, we had to do something different,” says Pieter. “We try to find the best mares in the world and offer all the embryos for fixed and accessible prices on our website.”

    Current prices range from €7,750 for a Baloubet Du Rouet embryo out of Vibelle Z up to €25,000 for a Heartbreaker embryo out of Olympic mare Sancha LS. MoM also offers an optional “no pregnancy, no pay” warranty, and under this will arrange for implantation as well as transportation of the embryo.

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